The final pieces to the LSU puzzle might be fitting together.
Even as the second-ranked Tigers have bolted to a school-record start to the season, coach Paul Mainieri has been trying to figure out his leadoff and designated hitter positions. He’s also been wondering when JaCoby Jones and Ty Ross would starting hitting as well as they did during the previous two seasons.
Then a couple of rough outings from Sunday starter Cody Glenn and a season-ending shoulder injury to mid-week starter Russell Reynolds messed up the pitching rotation.
But as LSU put together its third straight Southeastern Conference series sweep to improve to a school-record 30-2, Mainieri’s players seemed to provide some answers.
Sean McMullen proved that he’s capable of handling the leadoff spot against left-handers as well as right-handers. Facing almost exclusively left-handed pitching from Kentucky, McMullen got on base 10 times and acted as a catalyst for the Tigers’ 31-run, 41-hit outburst against the Wildcats.
Jones came to life as he went 8 for 13 and raised his batting average from .188 to .239. Ross didn’t match Jaones’ weekend, but he too showed signs of coming around as he went 4 for nine, walked three times, drove in a run scored four runs.
A 1-8 batting order of McMullen, Mark Laird, Alex Bregman, Raph Rhyes, Mason Katz, Christian Ibarra, Jones and Ross looks a lot more stable and consistent than the lineup looked a week or so ago.
That just leaves the nine hole and DH/OF spot. Senior Alex Edward got the chance against Kentucky’s lefties and went just 1 for 8 with the hit coming when Wildcats right fielder Kyle Barrett misplayed a fly ball into a triple Saturday night.
When LSU faces two right-handers to start the series at Arkansas next weekend, look for McMullen to be the DH and Andrew Stevenson to play the outfield, or Tyler Moore to get another crack at DH. Perhaps Chris Chinea will get another shot at some point against lefties.
The last spot in the lineup and batting order is still up for grabs, but the lineup as a whole has rounded into outstanding shape.
An improtant outing will come Tuesday night against Southern at Zephyr Field when junior right-hander Kurt McCune starts in his season debut after being sidelined by a back injury.
If McCune performs well he will at the very least bolster the bullpen depth. But if Glenn isn’t more consistent, McCune might get a shot at Sunday starter, a role he had at the beginning of last season, at some point.
Since Southeastern Conference play began, Glenn has had two bad outings on the road and two good ones at home. If he gets another chance at Arkansas next Sunday, how well he does could determine whether he remains in that role.
If at some point Mainieri decides to remove Glenn from the Sunday role, he would be a logical candidate to replace Reynolds.
But the main thing is, if McCune proves to be healthy and effective, Mainieri will have a lot more flexibility is stabilizing a staff that is outstanding at the stop, with Aaron Nola starting on Fridays, Ryan Eades starting on Saturdays and Joey Bourgeois and Chris Cotton handling late relief.
If McCune finds a niche and someone takes over the DH role with authority, that will be the final pieces to a team that has matched its best SEC start ever by winning 11 of its first 12 league games.